Free Research Paper About Causes Of The 1857 Mutiny In India Against The British
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The research reviewed the causes leading to the Mutiny of 1857 in India. The population of north-central India had been living under the stresses caused by the British colonial domination. Finally, several difficult events took place at approximately the same time, leading to the mutiny. The crumbling of the Mughal Empire had been taking place over time, due to British influence, but the other reasons for discontent were on a personal level for everyone in the population. The lowering of soldiers wages even though the cost of living was higher was like a slap in the face. The region was already suffering from a breakdown of the local economy due to British imports and foreign business being introduced into the area. During the period after the EIC starting taking power, the number of Christians and Christian missionaries increased. Finally, when the soldiers were given cartridges covered with beef and pork tallow a string of events caused the mutiny. The cartridge issue was religious because soldiers had to bite the cartridge to rip off some of the paper before loading into a gun. The purpose was to allow the gun powder in the cartridge to ignite. Followers of Islam and Hinduism cannot touch animal fat so the cartridges were interpreted as an ultimate act of disrespect by the British. The British saw the refusals of the soldiers to use the cartridges as mutiny. The two opposite opinions set into action a year of bloody warfare. The result of the war was direct rule of the Indian subcontinent by Queen Victoria and the English parliament.
(Keywords: Mutiny of 1857, British rule of India, East India Company, Mughal Empire, Empire, Colonial rule)
The English East India Company (EIC) was legally formed on 31 December 1600 to trade mainly cotton and tea from India (Robins, 2006). The roots of the Mutiny of 1857 can be traced from that date to the rebellion, because that was the first step to establishing the British Empire in India. The British did show any respect to the Indian political and legal power structure. The English parliament made decisions in London that had a great negative impact on the people of India. The Mutiny of 1857 can also be regarded as a rebellion or a battle for independence, but the British won. The British Crown, Queen Victoria became the ruler of India, and the power passed to here successors until 1947 (Robins, 2006). Therefore, the British claimed dominion over India from 1858 to 1947. The major result of the Mutiny was that the EIC gave up its power to Queen Victoria; the queen was given the title of the Empress of India by the British in 1876 (Robins, 2006). The appalling treatment of the Indian people included shockingly distressing famines, chaos and forced poverty.
The British situated themselves right at the top of the Indian power structure and claimed the highest quality of life they could construct. The comfort and riches taken by the British caused extreme suffering for the Indians. The British took what they wanted and demanded high taxes. An example of the suffering caused was the Bengal famine in 1770; over 30 percent of the Bengal population died of starvation.
The American minister J.P. Jones (1899) was an observer inside India during the 1800s. He argued that the British deserved more empathy for the difficulties of ruling such a large and diverse region as the Indian subcontinent. For example, on the subject of famines, he viewed them as happening throughout time in cycles. From Jones’ perspective, the Mutiny was a jihad initiated by the religious fervour of the followers of Muhammad. In fact, he commented that “Whatever may have been its origin, it was doubtless largely fed and maintained by the religious sentiments of those doughty hill tribe Mohammedans, who have been feeling for some time that Christianity is the mortal foe of their faith” (Jones, 1899, p. 337). The anger of the soldiers involved in the mutiny towards poor, unequal treatment by the British Army and domination by the British Crown is a more realistic perspective.
Streets (2001) explained that the uprising was the worst threat to the 19th Century British rule of India. The rebellion was certainly a reaction to crisis by the Indian soldiers, but they were not the only group of people extremely unhappy with British rule. The small farmers in Awadh, in north central India were carrying out mass protests, along with the military protests that took place at the same time. The protests were the product of a “broad-based antipathy to British administrative and economic policies” in the region (Streets, 2001). The population carefully followed events in Britain leading to some academics to label the Mutiny of 1857, the first national popular war against British domination (Streets, 2001). The soldiers and citizens of India are considered mutineers by the British and Americans, but as patriots in India, because they fought for independence (Landow, 2007).
The balance of power was shifted when the British assumed colonial power over the region. For instance, the Mughal Empire was weakened to the point during the year-long insurrection they emperor and his forces could not help over throw the British. The balance of access to human necessities was also disrupted. The British took what they wanted and did not stop when they had what they needed. For every dinner party and banquet thrown by the British, the less food was available for the population.
Many circumstances such as inequality, disrespect and suffering can be called causes for the mutiny. Essentially the reasons are similar to other uprisings of local populations when another country imposes their citizens into positions of power and domination. The following topics are related to the causes that were purely aspects of the interaction with India and the United Kingdom in their relationship as the dominated and the dominators.
Technology. The British introduced technology that disrupted the local economy. The steam ship, steam powered trains, and the telegraph were not introduced because India wanted to adopt the new technology; the new items were forced on them by the British. The effect on businesses was devastating. Indian boats were pushed out the hauling business. Farmers who had stable incomes due to cooperative monopolies were suddenly unable to compete with other regions of Indian and other countries for the price of goods. England was experiencing the ‘Industrial Revolution’ so cloth, clothing and other goods were mass produced and imported to India. The English projects were imported, but remained cheaper to buy than it cost Indian manufacturers to produce. The destruction of the Brahmin caste system was due to the economic breakdown and to soldiers sent to distant place to fight. Families were separated and the order of the caste system was disrupted.
Religion. The import of Christianity by the EIC and Europeans who came to live on the Indian subcontinent was turning into a mission to ‘save’ the people of India. After the first century of proving the EIC could make a profit, the employees, attached bureaucrats, and their families started turning to other ways to make India more like home. The Bengals in the north-central region of India practiced Islam and the second main religion was Hinduism.
EIC Actions. The EIC and the British were two different armies and they both became overstretched. The British Army had been taxed by the Crimean Campaign against Russia and wars in Burma. EIC soldiers were expected to protect the new British interests. Annexed regions that were newly under British rule were considered as possible locations for outbreaks of violence, because they were not sued to British rule. The EIC started annexing Indian principalities when a prince died without leaving heirs. The local mercenaries working for the EIC were shocked when they learned that their own homes had been annexed to the British Empire due to a dying or otherwise weak leader in the principalities.
The inequality of the Indian soldiers compared to their British officers had been growing. When the EIC originally brought British officers to lead Indian soldiers the situation was very different. The first year the officers and soldiers experienced the same environment and discomforts. The British were willing to make sacrifices if they thought in the end they would gain profit. And then, during the second year the British officers were from a new generation that did not need to struggle for riches. The officers lost the ability to speak local dialects, because they spent most of their time with other English, including their families who came to India with them.
Cartridges and Religion. The people of the Mughals Empire worshipped Islam and Hinduism and followed the strict rules laid out from them by their religion. Their religions have strict rules about cleanliness, on are very aware of cleanliness; they do not touch animal fat. A serious problem arose when a new design for bullets was devised. The bullets were wrapped into a cartridge with the amount of gun powder necessary. The British supplied the cartridges from England where they had been covered with tallow made from beef and pork fat to make loading them into guns easier. The cartridge paper was supposed to be torn off before loading the gun, because the powder needed to be exposed for igniting. The idea of using the cartridges was horrifying to the Indian soldiers; they equated the experience to defilement. Soldiers refused to even touch the cartridges, and so charges of mutiny were invoked by the British. The fat on the cartridges was replaced with vegetable fat by the EIC, but the event with the animal fat had proved to the soldiers and other Indians that the English wanted to impose Christianity.
The British were appalled at the stories of the atrocities that were blamed on the Indian army; they were shocked that after showing so much kindness to India that such a reaction was possible (Landlaw, 2007). Clearly, the perspective of the British was that the Indians were inferior and needed to be ruled by Crown. Meanwhile, in India the battle turned into a yearlong insurrection. The British EIC was dissolved. The ruling power formerly held by the EIC was transferred to Queen Victoria in England where she was named the first British Raj; the British royal and political leaders directly ruled India, but with no representation of the people in India. The Mughal Empire had been disintegrating under British rule and the insurrection led to the exile of Emperor Bahadur Shah from the north central region near Delhi to Burma (Landow, 2007).
The causes of the 1857 Mutiny in India, generally speaking, were similar to other uprisings where the local population is ready to throw-out the ruling colonial power. The details of the Indian culture though make the treatment of the British towards the population a very complex issue. The culture of the Brahmins was based on a caste system, but the system broke down due to the pressures the British army place on communities and soldiers. The local economic systems that provided good living conditions, disintegrated when imports were introduced. Indians on the subcontinent were faced with daily acts of disrespect from the British, who made no secret of their arrogance. The economy and the culture of north-central India had been destroyed, and the population expected that Christianity would soon cause a disintegration of their religious systems. Therefore, the Mutiny of 1857 was not cause by one event, like the animal tallow on the cartridges; the causes of discontent had built up since the EIC usurped power. The cartridges happened to be a marking point of an event that immediately preceded the mutiny.
Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., & Brizee, A. (2010, May 5).General format. Purdue Owl, Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
Jones, J.P. (1899). British Rule in India. The North American Review, 168(508), 336-344. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25119160
Landow, G. P. (2007). The 1857 Indian Mutiny (also known as the Sepoy Rebellion, the Great Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857. The Victorian Web, August 7, Retrieved from http://www.victorianweb.org/history/empire/1857/1857.html
Robins, N. (2006). The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational. Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.
Salute the Heroes of the 1857 Indian War of Liberation – Part 2. (2008). Laklar, March/April, Retrieved from http://site.lalkar.org/article/871/salute-the-heroes-of-the-1857-indian-war-of-liberation-part-2
Streets, H. (2001). The Rebellion of 1857: Origins, consequences, and themes. Teaching South Asia: An Internet Journal of Pedagogy, 1(1), Winter, Retrieved from http://www.sdstate.edu/projectsouthasia/Resources/upload/The-Rebellion-of-1857-Streets.pdf
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